Click Here to read the rest of our reviews from Toronto Fringe 2023.
In Passing (A-)
Pure joy from start to finish, this ensemble tap performance from Rhythm & Sound features strong storytelling without going too far into narrative. The piece plays out in a series of vignettes that vary in tone and tell simple but engaging individual stories. The principal dancers all bring contrasting strengths to the stage and the group as a whole is incredibly cohesive. Cori Giannotta & Johnathan Morin’s choreography is varied, thoughtful, and impressively performed and I was thrilled by the diversity of the featured performers, specifically body diversity which is rare to find in a dance show. I loved every second of it.
A rap musical adaptation of Julius Caesar? Why the hell not! The execution of this wild concept blew me out of the water both as written and as performed. Nam Nguyen’s lyrics reflect a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s text and (along with Chernilo, who wrote the music) hip hop technical construction, setting the story within hip hop iconography in a fun contemporary illumination of the themes of the play. The cast is musically very strong though only Martin Gomes as Cassius was consistently intelligible enough that the barely visible subtitles were wholly unnecessary. Obviously any rap musical immediately will draw comparisons to Hamilton but CAEZUS is way harder than Hamilton, striking a vastly different tone both musically and dramatically and bringing its historical characters into the setting of its music rather than the other way around. A great surprise brimming with energy and bravura with just the right amount of nerd cred. I’d love to see this one expanded and remounted.
muse: an experiment in storytelling and life drawing (B+)
This show is really not so much a show as a literal life drawing class with a Q&A element. Cameryn Moore, a big-bodied and bigger-voiced solo performer who moonlights as an artists’ model poses nude in a series of ever-longer-held positions as the audience sketches her using provided materials. Partly because I’m not a participator and partly because I was more interested in what everyone else would do than in whatever my very limited art skills could conjure, I was one of very few audience members who stayed an audience member; everyone else formed a circle around the naked Moore and produced an incredible array of drawings from truly amateur to wildly impressive.
Moore has structured the show to be mostly driven by audience questions so she doesn’t do very much self-guided storytelling. Though I appreciate that the choose-your-own-adventure format might at certain performances lead to really interesting places, at mine it didn’t lead anywhere I don’t think Moore couldn’t have taken us on her own. Mostly, I feel that Moore’s experiences are important for people to hear. A major component of the muse experience is the knowledge that the vast majority of audience members will have never seen a naked plus sized body before. That unspoken tension is moving unto itself but fat perspective has never been mainstreamed so I think those same audience members could stand to hear a few more of Moore’s first person accounts as well.
Choosing not to draw, I was able to look around the room at everyone else’s work and observe the varying comfort levels and interpretations. I’m still thinking about the very fit young man sitting in front of me who drew every pose as if it was being performed by a thin body, and the skinny woman beside him who spent most of her drawing time filling in the space behind Moore instead of drawing her as she is. The oldest woman in the room seemed to take the most care to reflect how gravity worked upon Moore’s joints; it was truly one of the most interesting character studies all festival and that was just the audience.
As the only person in the room with a body of comparable size to Moore’s, my emotional experience at this production was surely very different from most. So, when I ask you to please go to this show, it’s not because I’m looking for you to feel what I felt being in that room (you won’t). I’d love to see the storytelling aspect expanded so that you have a real opportunity to listen to Moore but, in the meantime, I think it’s important that you at least do the thing she’s so daringly inviting you to do and really look at her.
Are You Catching What I’m Throwing? (B+)
I couldn’t say if the juggling in this juggling show is all that technically impressive but William Alex Larson’s silent solo show is far more of a bittersweet dramedy about loneliness and yearning for connection through shared passion than it is a circus act. It’s the best of clown, mime, and melancholy if not the best of juggling.
Ancient Dying Chinese Dialect (B+)
Chantal Lim’s story about her family, their language, and her relationship with her Filipina-Chinese heritage is incredibly engaging. Her writing is funny and well-paced though Ken Hall’s direction is a bit wild in its physicality. Lim is charming and her story is interesting, she doesn’t need to reach so far for our attention.
An Incomplete List of All the Things I’m Going to Miss When the World is No Longer: (B)
The gigantic cast of this oddball musical about the end of the world feels like the Sheridan Musical Theatre Program on summer break with a couple of adult chaperones thrown in. They’re young, they’re rough around the edges, and they’ve got a truly ridiculous amount of energy. The musical’s wildness and frenetic pacing make the characters hard to latch onto though the engaging person playing Pruitt does manage to break through the noise. Dante Green’s songs are angular and modern, recognizable in style within the current musical theatre landscape at large but certainly unique against the more conventional set of musicals on offer at the Fringe. With unavoidable audience interaction and sensory overload, there’s something a bit obnoxious about An Incomplete List but there’s something really urgent about it too. It’ll either be your favourite or least favourite of the well-executed musicals this year.
Things We Lost in the Fire (B)
A decently acted though somewhat simply written ensemble drama about the various tenants of an unfortunate apartment building, Things We Lost in the Fire is a worthy if middling production that easily gets lost in the crowd. There are lots of themes about masculinity and toxic relationships at play here but most of them are invoked then forgiven far too easily.
Third Wheel: A Musical (C+)
This musical is constructed with the clever and intellectually intriguing gimmick that any of the three roles can be played by any of the four actors in the ensemble. There’s so much there to explore in the universality of experience and relationship dynamics. Bizarrely, however, the audience isn’t let in on this concept until after the show is finished. It’s in the press release and the director’s note but not in the Fringe program guide or on the website so it’s extremely possible to watch this musical and not know the one thing that makes it interesting. Without the gimmick, it’s a bland story with confusing character stakes and no memorable songs. I’m not sure the gimmick can completely redeem the work but selecting the roles onstage by, say, picking names from a hat would at least bring the audience in on the challenge of performing the show and therefore raise their investment level.
Disjointed and over-sentimental, this odd drama seems to want to say a lot about family and memory and how the mind works but is done no favours by a confusing structure, shaky performances, and uninteresting direction that somehow both drags and leaves the audience behind. I think there may be an interesting idea at the heart of this but a lot of dramaturgy is needed to translate that idea into something that will read to the audience.